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Laura Got Her Gun

A novice gets a load of shooting advice.

Don Robinson has a surprisingly gentle manner for a guy who spends so much time around firepower. Red-haired and friendly faced, he resembles Ned Flanders more than John Rambo. Aside from a patch on his shirt, Robinson's well-worn hands provide the only outward clue to his profession as a range officer and NRA-certified firearms instructor at the Cherry Creek Shooting Center. Today his job will involve supervising hunters, changing targets and trying to convince a scared novice -- me -- not to be afraid of the semi-automatic 9mm Glock pistol he's about to place in my trembling hands.

Robinson had hoped to start me off with a .22-caliber pistol, something small and agile. But the center's only .22 is out of commission, he tells me. (Two weeks earlier, a young woman rented the .22 at the very same counter, signed the same form attesting to her mental fitness, then shot herself on the firing range.)

Have I ever shot before? he asks. Not for years, I tell him, not since my family would use my father's handgun to shoot at tin cans and paper bags in the Arizona desert. I didn't particularly like shooting back then, but I don't remember hating it, either. Since that time, though, I've developed a deep, probably irrational, discomfort around firearms. It's not the weapons themselves that bother me, but the people who abuse them. And even in the lobby of the Cherry Creek Shooting Center, I want to run out the door every time someone in hunter's garb walks in with a rifle strapped to his back.

Instead, I listen as Robinson tells me that a gun is just a tool -- inanimate and powerless unless acted upon by a human operator. Made of both metal and plastic, the Glock is solidly utilitarian and ugly, manufactured in Austria and used by law-enforcement agencies all over the world, including the Denver Police Department. This is a weapon designed not for hobbyists or collectors, but for shooting -- and often killing -- things. People.

He dismantles the gun to show me its guts -- the firing pin, the magazine chamber. He talks me through proper shooting posture -- legs apart, waist slightly bent, arms pushing both forward and backward. Unloaded, the Glock is lighter than I'd imagined.

We head outside to the range, which is loud and crowded. Many of the 22 firing stalls are occupied, and even wearing protective earmuffs, I find the constant popping of rifle blasts unnerving.

We sit at a pistol-firing station, and Robinson again assures me that there's no chance the gun in my hands is going to do anything I don't make it do. But he also warns me that the Glock will automatically eject spent casings after each round is fired, which means it will kick back some of the force it sends out. I practice pulling the trigger -- releasing the safety, activating the firing pin -- and then Robinson hands me a box of ammo and watches patiently as I try to load the gun. I'm clumsy as hell, and the first bullet pops out of the chamber when I force its spring.

Gun finally loaded, I pull the trigger and shoot, coming pretty close to hitting the paper target where Robinson told me to. I don't notice the kick because I'm in a kind of shock. It feels as if the bullet dislodged from the very center of my being, a violent projectile neither inanimate nor powerless.

I want to stop, but instead shoot again. This time the Glock makes a sound I know too well from time spent in a gangland neighborhood in Tucson. It's the sound that sometimes rings through my Capitol Hill street, making me wonder if it was my boyfriend, or one of my colleagues, or my favorite waitress at Mama's Cafe who got hit leaving a bar or driving down Colfax on the way home from a movie.

But this time the sound is coming from me.

Don Robinson is confused but gracious when I tell him thanks, but my lesson is over for the day. Too bad, he tells me. I'm a pretty good shot.

 
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